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Sexual Withdrawer - 3 Ways to Satisfy the Insatiable Spouse

Three ways lower-libido spouses can make their partners happy.

Key points

  • In the sexual cycle of a romantic relationship, partners are on opposite ends of the spectrum—either as a sexual pursuer or sexual withdrawer.
  • Sexual withdrawers like sex, but often need to get ready for it intrapsychically and interpersonally.
  • To a sexual withdrawer, sex feels risky because of the intensity of what they feel in the act and the frequent disappointment of their partner.
  • Sexual withdrawers can start to feel better about sex once they look at the implicit and explicit messages they got in childhood about sex.

Often in our sexual attachment of our romantic relationship, one person (the sexual pursuer) mores with more intensity toward the sexual relationship. The other—the sexual withdrawer—seems to move away from it. What is happening? And what is going on inside the sexual withdrawer?

Do Sexual Withdrawers Like Sex?

Sexual withdrawers like sex. Truly, they do. They like sex to happen when they are ready for it, when they are expecting it, when they want it. Seduction is often the elixir that awakens their sexual desire. They'd like to be tempted, coaxed, reassured, charmed, and sweet-talked toward this precipice that feels slightly dangerous and out of control. Feeling safe emotionally is a prerequisite. They'd also like sex to be just right for their partner, sex that would earn them a gold sticker of 100% satisfaction.

What Do Sexual Withdrawers Want From Sex?

Luxuriating in the present moment is their favorite way to enjoy sex—simply, purely. Sex is one way they receive and give love but not necessarily the preeminent avenue. Some sexual withdrawers are often emotional pursuers wanting closeness through talking and being together in non-sexual but intimate, even affectionate, time. They see sex as something that flows out of the context of warm connection, not as the heating source. The frequency of sexual relations is never a measurement in their minds of their love, commitment, or attraction to their partner. Their fantasies revolve around making their partner happy in relaxed harmony. They want to be sexy, skilled, attractive, and most importantly, good enough.

Why Do Sexual Withdrawers Back Away From Sex?

Sex feels risky because of two things—the intensity of what they feel in the sexual act and the frequent disappointment of their partner in their performance. Withdrawers (hear my podcast cohost George Faller and I discuss this dynamic) like orgasm as well as anyone, but sometimes they feel the depth and intensity exposes their soul. Often they come from childhoods where they were overlooked or neglected and learned to soldier on without expecting recognition of their needs. But sex can awaken primitive unmet needs in their body.

To trust their lover to always meet their needs (body and soul) sometimes feels like unbearable vulnerability. Some present sexual distancers were even promiscuous in youth and now afraid of what might happen if they let their desire run amok, so they contain and confine themselves. Controlling frequency or position or what happens during a sexual encounter manages this wild force. While their partners may be surprised or angry to find they go solo, masturbation is a way to keep the experience in their own control away from the demands or unpredictability of a partner.

When the lovemaking seems to be going well and their sexually pursuing partner wants something even more or expresses frustration by word or deed, sexual withdrawers feel their fragile vulnerability was a gift too far. When asked what would make the sex better, withdrawers hear a covert criticism that they weren't good enough. When their pursuer partner checks in—Does this feel good? Are you getting excited?—perhaps only to make sure the sex is satisfying, withdrawers start to feel anxious. The sense that their partner is disappointed in "how much" or in "what happens" puzzles and disturbs sexual withdrawers because they are not particularly quantifiers. They are willing to change and grow sexually, but it's the ever-present sense of criticism that shuts them down.

In marital gridlock, their pursuing partners always seem to be measuring everything. The intensity of their partner's reactions is also unsettling. Fear of being swallowed in their partner's upset can make them shy away from another encounter. Initiation feels like a ridiculous invitation for more criticism.

If their partner's sexual initiation is blasé or the technique inept, sexual withdrawers shrug, perhaps disappointed but shy away from any thought of confrontation. If they told you once, they won't nag. To bring up differences would start a conflict, bringing more intensity around a loaded issue.

How Can a Sexual Withdrawer Stop the Looping Negative Cycle?

If the relationship has polarized around sex, what can a distancer do to stop the pursuer from criticizing and spoiling the moment besides withdraw or lose desire?

  1. Do your own work first. Examine your sexual formation—what were the implicit and explicit messages in childhood about sex? A good-enough childhood lays the foundation for later sexual capacity. If our needs were acceptable and we were reassured that we were not a burden, we can trust others with our desire.
  2. Commit to being knowledgeable about your body (for women, read "Name That Yoni") and sexual technique (read fellow PT blogger Michael Castleman's Great Sex). If sex means love to your partner, bump up your commitment to set time aside for intimate connection—above work, children, laundry. Figure out how to turn yourself on so you feel motivated to approach sexually.
  3. Extract sex from the power struggle. Realize how much pleasure you personally miss when sexual frequency remains low in the marriage. Challenge yourself to accept more risk in the bedroom if things are too routine or dull. If sex is part of a quid pro quo arrangement, you have become alienated from your own need.